Westport looks to help preserve trees after concerns from residents

Photo of Serenity Bishop
Westport Town Hall, in Westport, Conn. Aug. 24, 2016.

Westport Town Hall, in Westport, Conn. Aug. 24, 2016.

Ned Gerard

WESTPORT — Over the last year, residents have told town officials about trees being chopped down and ruining the character of their property and neighborhood.

One emailed the town in frustration after several trees on Bayberry Lane were cut down. The resident said that while the trees were not only cut down without a permit, it has left a bit of an eyesore on the rest of the neighborhood as the rubble has been sitting on the property for close to a year.

Another resident told a planning and zoning subcommittee that a developer bought the property next to him and cut down the majority of the trees. He said the situation drastically transformed the back half of his 50-year property.

“We decided the time has come to try and do something about it,” said Planning and Zoning Chairwoman Danielle Dobin. “I’ve conducted a little bit of research and asked the staff to do the same to see if we could find any ordinances that thoughtfully preserved tress while still allowing for private property owners to have utilization of their property.”

The group found a number of towns have drastically different ordinances for preserving trees.

Hartford protects “significant trees,” that are 13 inches or more from removal, the commission said. Anyone who wants to remove a tree this size would need approval from the city forester. During any development, these trees require protection if they are not being removed. Unpermitted removal results in fines.

Ridgefield’s landscaping regulations require site-plan applications to preserve trees that are 18 inches or more to the greatest extent possible, the commission said. The site plan also has to enact protection measures around any trees that are not being removed. Anything removed has to be replaced by equivalent trees.

Greenwich requires sediment and erosion control plans for anything that disturbs more than half an acre. Those plans must have tree-protection measures, the commission said.

Westport planner Michael Kiselak said in eastern Connecticut, Brooklyn’s zoning permits require clearing limits to be marked in the field before the permits can be issued.

“This was interesting,” Kiselak said. “They said it was because contractors often times just go out cutting without looking at the plans so they wanted to prevent that from happening.”

Kiselak said in the Zoning Regulation Revision Subcommittee’s proposal for Westport, they tried to be cognizant of not overstepping and telling residents that they can’t remove any trees.

Within the proposal, the subcommittee decided to restrict removal and setbacks on private property, Kiselak said. If a tree provides a safety issue, it has to be demonstrated that it is a threat of some sort.

“If there are safety concerns, we want to acknowledge that so the draft regulation that we came up with doesn’t make it impossible,” Kiselak said. “It’s just a draft we need to get feedback here and from the legal team so it’s just a starting point.”

The subcommittee will seek input from the town as it moves to create a better rules for preserving the trees.

serenity.bishop@hearstmediact.com